I returned from Asia about a week ago, and have had some time to reflect on my experiences in Singapore. It is a place and a time I will miss, and although I am incredibly grateful and lucky to have received funding allowing me to complete this project, I wish I could have stayed longer. The final few days came up quickly, and, as I think I mentioned in my last post, I would have liked to have had more time there, for research purposes and otherwise. But, alas, all good things must come to an end!
In my final few days, I did get a chance to catch the National Day celebrations, which commemorate Singapore’s independence in 1965. The celebrations are pretty elaborate, and there are street decorations for weeks prior, a televised celebration that occurs the night of August 9 in the National Stadium (I believe tickets to attend the actual celebration are auctioned off lottery style), a huge national day parade with fireworks and air shows, etc. I think what struck me most about National Day, though, was how much it permeated daily life – for example, for the week before and after National Day, malls across the city seemingly played only National Day music… “We are Singapore, Singaporeans,” I was reminded, every time I stopped for lunch. The day before National Day is when most schools have National Day celebrations, and I got to go to the high school my professor used to teach at to get a sense of what National Day is all about. It was pretty awesome to be in a high school environment and feel the excitement and buzz in the air, and also interesting to hear how committed everyone seems to the “national narrative,” per se, upheld on National Day and beyond. It would be too long to go into those reflections now, but if you’re interested, I’m happy and willing to discuss. Here’s a video of the assembly-style celebrations of National Day at the Anglo Chinese School (if you play with audio, you can hear one of the National Day songs):
My final days in Singapore were spent in the library, finishing up reviewing the Malaya Tribune somewhat frantically, crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s. I got to say goodbye to a new friend, the one who showed me around after reading my blog, as well:
It would probably be amiss not to mention that I traveled to Beijing to visit my roommate after my research. When in Asia, right? I knew there wouldn’t be another time in my life, or at least for a long time, where I would have a friend to show me around Beijing that spoke Chinese and could navigate anything from the shopping district to the hutongs. I was struck by comparisons and impressions of Singapore…Singaporeans warned me of traveling to Beijing that it would be dirty and crime ridden (which it was not), and Beijingers commented on Singapore’s relative cleanliness and contrived nature (which, to a degree, it is). In Beijing, I saw what I couldn’t in Singapore, as far as “old Beijing” goes. I also saw a little more authenticity than Singapore’s “Chinatown,” which functions more like Disneyland. I loved being in Beijing, and 5 days was the perfect amount of time to finish off my time abroad being just a tourist rather than a researcher. Here’s some highlights:
Camping at the Great Wall to see the sunrise:
Exploring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City:
Checking out a few hutongs:
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Beijing, that vacation similarly had to come to an end and I returned to the U.S. last week. The final week or so of my URG period will be spent reviewing the photographs I took of the Malaya Tribune and noting them in more detail so that analysis will be possible. This will likely be a task that will continue throughout the year as I work on my honors thesis.
Reflecting on my time in Singapore makes me proud that I feel I did the most with the amount of time that I had there. I hit the archives as often as I could and remain sane, met many inspiring, devoted individuals who reminded me to breathe and see Singapore when possible, and proved to myself that I can travel and plan my travels alone and be effective in doing so, a previous area of self-doubt. I also learned that research is something I could see myself doing in the future, but probably not the immediate future, and that I want to go abroad again, possibly to Southeast Asia, after graduation. I am incredibly grateful that I have been given the chance to conduct independent research, and learn not only about my project, but also about what it is like to be a researcher. I’m sure this learning will continue throughout the year, where I can’t wait to continue the act of research, even if in Evanston rather than Singapore.